Upheaval in sunny old Spain

Not too long ago, we were hearing a lot in the news about European countries riddled with debt and even requesting bailouts (Greece). So, in a way, it is not so surprising that in these nations corners were cut in order to maintain a shaky sense of stability– if that is even possible–or a better term, survival. It is perhaps even less surprising that the corners cut in these situations were for education.

Rewind a few months, back to October 2011. Fly over a sea or take a train across any number of countries, depending on where you’re from, and you’ll end up in Spain. This charming European nation, known to many as a vacation hotspot rather than a place of unrest, has hidden its devastation well.

But according to a Press TV article, Spain has the highest unemployment rate out of all of the nations in the European Union. Spain’s jobless rate was hovering at 22.7 percent in October (then inched up a little further to 22.9 by December).

To offer up a bit of perspective, the United States’ unemployment rate was at 8.9 percent at that time. I was taught in economics class that the natural unemployment rate can be expected to fall around five percent. And yet Spain’s unemployment rate was more than four times that expected amount? That creates the perfect atmosphere for protests to unfold.

According to the Buenos Aires Herald, Spanish teachers took to the streets in protest.

Apparently there was a government decision to increase weekly school hours—therefore decreasing the amount of teachers needed—and to cut back on class preparation time. The article found these reforms to pose the greatest threat to secondary schools. Union sources in the article report that nearly 80 percent of Madrid’s 21,000 secondary school teachers flocked the streets in protest in late October. The Madrid government is reported to have said that the number was half of that estimate.

This wave of protests continued on to October 23, when “tens of thousands” of people rallied in the Madrid city center against the education cuts, according to the Times of India.

Sources quoted in the article seemed to mainly be worried about the privatization of the education sector. One of the rattling fears of a protestor was that once schools are privatized, only the rich can get in.

But this is not a fight started by teacher, or parents, or lawmakers. It was brought to public attention mainly by Spanish students. On October 6, at least 2,000 students started what seems to be a domino effect in respect to the other protests that precipitated. They skipped class, donned matching green T-shirts with slogans, and marched in Madrid.

“We have less teachers this year, they closed the library because there is no one to work at it,” Alicia Fernandez, a 16-year-old high school student told Al-Jazeera.

The proposed changes in education could save the Spanish government 80 million euros on extra teaching staff, according to the Al-Jazeera article.

But as I’ve questioned before, and will question again, is it worth it? What will be the consequences of such a change?

(AFP)

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